In the late 1980s, while I was teaching at Columbia University, I received an urgent request to attend a meeting at Union Theological Seminary. I don’t recall everyone who was in the room, but the half dozen or so in attendance included several professors from Union as well as one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s biographers.
The immediate concern was that it was about to become public that King, while a doctoral student at Boston University, had plagiarized much of his dissertation.
Indeed, King had borrowed heavily, without attribution, from a Boston University dissertation written three years earlier by another doctoral student, Jack S. Boozer.
Although the school confirmed the violations, it decided against posthumously revoking the degree because university officials determined that King’s work made “an intelligent contribution to scholarship.”
All of this comes to mind because of plagiarism accusations directed against Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, a school that considers itself the epitome of academic excellence. The charges led to Gay’s resignation on Tuesday.
Gay, a political science professor and dean who became president in July, was first investigated in October after the New York Post asked for comment on allegations of improper citations. Harvard promised to investigate the matter. After the university found “duplicative language without appropriate attribution,” Gay reportedly made “corrections” to her dissertation.
It seems that Gay even plagiarized portions of the acknowledgements in her dissertation. The Harvard Corporation, which oversees the university, however, insisted that the new president’s actions did not rise to the level of “research misconduct.”
If the rhetoric coming out of Harvard sounded a tad defensive to you, I think you’re right. The euphemisms themselves were troubling: “research misconduct” rather than “plagiarism,” for example. Many students, faculty and alumni expressed their support, and some even advanced the argument that at least Gay did not falsify data.
That’s a pretty meager defense.
Read the rest here.